Spider Robinson is one of the most-beloved contemporary science fiction authors
of our generation. While not as prolific
as some of the other authors in the field, he achieves a level of quality
above and beyond the norm. He has won nearly all of the coveted science fiction awards over the course of his career at one time or another.
He got his start writing as a way to pass the time while working a night job, guarding a sewage project in New York (as he puts it, "guarding a hole in the ground to prevent anyone from stealing it.") . He quickly became well-known in the science fiction community for the short stories he wrote for a science fiction magazine of the time, although his work has been known to cause science fiction purists to turn up their noses, and even (in at least one known case) cancel their subscriptions to Analog, the magazine his stories were first printed in.
His writing style is clearly influenced by Robert Heinlein, Theodore Sturgeon, and E.E. "Doc" Smith, but there are undoubtedly many other influences. The Heinlein influence is obvious to anyone who reads any Robinson at all. The other influences are less evident, but clearly there, and credited in forewords and acknowledgements in several of his books... and in some cases, even referenced within his stories directly. He has also been referred to by critics and other science fiction authors as, "the next Robert Heinlein," and, "E.E. 'Doc' Smith's heir," among other complimentary phrases.
Spider Robinson writes both short stories and novels, but it is in the short stories where he truly shines, and his collection of works shows that. His most-beloved series, the Callahan series, is comprised of a whole bunch of mostly unconnected short stories set in a bar called Callahan's. It is in this setting where Robinson lets rip with some of the worst puns known to man. Piers Anthony is known as the king of fantasy puns with his Xanth series, but all of his puns are one-shot zingers. Robinson is a master of the story pun, building up to the anticipated pun with skill and flair.
A (probably incomplete) list of Robinsons's books (With commentary, where I've read the books):
The Callahan series - Spider's best-known and best-loved series. These stories are (mostly) set in a bar called Callahan's Place, and detail events that take place there. Despite this, they most definitely are science fiction... you might consider that Callahan's Place is a "weirdness magnet." Warning: Here be puns!
The Lady Callahan series
- Callahan's Crosstime Saloon - The second story in this, The Time Traveler, caused at least one reader of Analog to write to the editor, Ben Bova, to cancel his subscription, insisting that the story wasn't science fiction.
- Time Travelers Strictly Cash - Only technically half a Callahan's book, the other half of this book is composed of various bits of short fiction and non-fiction ramblings, including Rah, Rah, R.A.H., a speech debunking the most common myths and misconceptions about Robert Heinlein.
- Callahan's Secret - This one is the true end to the Callahan series, and finishes it off with a bang... literally.
- The Callahan Touch - This one is only technically a Callahan book, since it doesn't take place in Callahan's Place (physically impossible) and Callahan is absent for most of it. However, most of the cast from the previous Callahan books are present, and this takes place (mostly) in a bar named Mary's Place, opened by Jake Stonebender (the narrator of the Callahan books) after the events at the end of Callahan's Secret. It introduces a number of new illogical characters, like a cluricaune and a sentient Macintosh (computer, not fruit).
- Callahan's Legacy - Again, only technically a Callahan book. This one also takes place in Mary's Place, and, like all of the other Callahan books, is narrated by Jake Stonebender. At the very end, he includes a "Note to Wired Readers," which closes with the following plea: "If you're one of those antisocial weirdos who just likes reading books (like, say, me), please be patient: I'm writing as fast as I can."
- Callahan's Key - Due to some pressures caused by being located in New York, Mary's Place ends up moving to Key West, Florida.
- Callahan and Company - An omnibus edition that contains some of the Callahan stories (Crosstime Saloon through Callahan's Secret, I believe, but I don't know for certain)
- The Callahan Chronicals - Another omnibus edition. This one definitely compiles the stories from the first three Callahan books. No, the title isn't misspelled.
- Off The Wall At Callahan's - This one is a collection of puns, witticisms, and pithy thayingth, most of them from the Callahan and Lady Callahan series. However, some are from other authors who Robinson happens to admire.
- Not for the easily offended. This takes place in a brothel run by Lady Sally McGee, the wife of the aforementioned Mike Callahan
. If you don't mind stories with a sexual tone (and a few not-quite-explicit descriptions of sexual acts) to them, the stories set at Lady Sally's are just as fun and witty - albeit somewhat more action-oriented - as the Callahan's stories. Spider has written a third Lady Callahan book, but none of the publishers he deals with wants to touch it, oddly enough.
The Stardance series
- Callahan's Lady - I'm not sure if this one was written as short stories, but the chapters definitely have a "short story" feel to them. Nevertheless, the stories here are as rich and detailed as anything else Spider's written. This book is a series of stories about a hooker who accidentally ends up at Lady Sally's, and her experiences (and growth) within.
- Lady Slings The Booze - I warned you the puns were thick around here, but did you listen? No! This one is another whole story set at Lady Callahan's. This one is definitely one complete story, and extremely well written. This follows a private investigator sent to Lady Sally's to catch "the man who wasn't there."
- This series is a collaboration with Spider's wife, Jeanne. Unfortunately, I've never read them, so I can't even give capsule summaries for them.
Other long and short works
Spider also does folk music, and a CD of his (which is split between musical tracks and tracks of Spider reading portions of his books) is available on his web page, www.spiderrobinson.com.
I saw Spider Robinson at the San Diego Comic Convention
2001, and bought his newest book, which debuted at the convention. He read a portion of The Free Lunch after his wife, Jeanne, read a portion of Stardance, and then he sang two songs, The Drunkard's Song
and Belabouring The Obvious
. The latter song was written for Jeanne, when Spider was missing her because she was spending time at a Buddhist temple. It's a very good song... and it was obvious that she enjoys it, because she was mouthing the words as he sang them. Truly a touching event.